I recently moved with my wife from the city of Surrey, British Columbia, to the small town of 100 Mile House, BC. One of the responsibilities of living on this side of the beaten track is periodically driving the four, or six, or ten hours each way to keep up with various pockets of family and friends in the larger region.
We are slightly too far to simply jump in the car and go, and yet slightly too close to claim inability to visit. In the first year, we made the trip south an average of about once a month. This equates to roughly three full-time work-weeks spent behind the wheel.
It is no wonder, therefore, that we’ve been able to standardize the procedures for getting between here and there, wherever “there” might be.
The usual road-trip starts with a walk around the car. I’m a little bit paranoid, so I’ll check tire pressure, fluid levels, and anything else I can visually inspect. There’s not a lot of civilization between 100 Mile House and where we go, unless you count Boston Bar. Which I don’t. I’d prefer not to get caught out.
If I’ve prepared properly, I’ll be wearing sweat pants, any one of my oldest t-shirts, and my battered Puma Speedcats. The sweat pants are for comfort, and the t-shirt is so I’m not afraid to spill anything on myself. You’d think this is the paranoia again, but it happens, so I deal with it.
Ideally, I’ve also put together a mix-CD for the trip. I bought my car before auxiliary inputs were a thing, so we live in the Dark Ages of physical media. That’s not to say my wife won’t bring her iPod. She’ll just throw her headphones on and ignore whatever’s coming out of the speakers.
My best advice is to listen to songs you already know all the words to and can sing along loudly with. I don’t sing very much except for in the car, so maybe the iPod is some sort of secret message to me. I don’t care. “The Phantom of the Opera” and I get on famously.
But back to the timeline. I’m not going to describe loading the car, because I think you’re either good at Tetris or you’re not.
Hopefully at this point, we’re ready to go. I’m a big fan of telling everyone along for the ride that we’re leaving about 30 minutes before we actually need to. When we pull away, they all think we’re “only” half an hour late, but I’m secure in the knowledge that we’re right on time.
I turn left onto Highway 97, and more or less drive straight for the appropriate number of hours. There’s sort of a merge at Hope, and an exit in Abbotsford, but really, it’s all the same street from here to Canby, Oregon, which is the southernmost point we’d make it to.
I’m spoiled by the vast majority of the driving. I hate stop-and-go traffic, and I hate setting the cruise-control and tuning out, so the Trans-Canada Highway between Cache Creek and Hope is like a big gift-wrapped present. I like nothing more than getting up to speed and cruising through the bendy parts.
That is, unless I get trapped behind RVs or people who aren’t familiar with the roads. It’s almost entirely single lanes, with passing pull-outs sprinkled about every so often. My biggest pet peeve is somebody trundling along at 10 kph below the speed limit. When I have the opportunity to pass, I make sure to make it stick.
The worst road ever, of all time, is Interstate 5. That’s just one big pile of suck, and I’m sorry for anyone who needs to use it regularly to get to anywhere. We travel it whenever we cross the border, and I’m pretty sure it steals a part of my soul every time that we do.
I should bring up the point that I’m the one that does all the driving. There’s no reason my wife couldn’t, and it’s not a man-woman-roles-type deal. The truth is that I’m just a terrible passenger, and if we want to get from point A to point B without an overabundance of squealing and phantom-brake mashing, it’s just better that way.
In many cars, the driver has certain privileges. What the radio will be tuned to, what the temperature will be set at, and when to stop for breaks spring to mind. These are all things you will want to discuss with your partner before attempting to leave the driveway, because you will find that hashing it out at 100 kph will not do anybody any favors.
In our car, as noted, I get control of the stereo and also, the temperature. I can’t abide stuffiness, and if it gets too warm I tend to get dozy. We agreed neither of us want me dozy. To make up for this certain lack of control, my wife will bring blankets and usually wears a robe. Then she goes to sleep. Compromise! It works wonders.
As for rest stops, there are about seven or so along the way. They’re used as necessary. Nobody wants to be cleaning that up, so why argue? I try to avoid stopping at restaurants or shops for washrooms. It seems like it takes longer to get in and out and sometimes you get looks. Maybe that’s the holey-t-shirt-and-sweat-pants combo. If you must stop for emergencies, I recommend Starbucks’ restrooms. It’s not because I used to work there. It’s because, overall, I’ve found them to be consistently clean and easy to get into.
There are a few other tasks that all parties should be involved in. The first is watching for animals, which in these parts are quite a hazard, especially at night. A deer or moose will end your day pretty quickly. The second is watching for police, who are only a problem if you exceed the speed limit. I don’t, not ever. But if I did, I’d hypothetically keep an eye out while entering or exiting towns, or around major junctions. The third, and most important, is to point out funny signs or place names. Our favorites so far are “Annis Road”, “Jackass Summit”, and the town of “Spuzzum”.
By now we’re zooming along, blowing past all the historic waypoints and scenic lookouts, because we’ve got places to be, and we’re hungry and thirsty. I’m partial to Cokes or iced tea, my wife drinks Dr. Pepper. Getting the twist-top ones is important, because drinks will slosh. Remember, the road is bendy.
Eating in the car takes some consideration. Snacks are good. I like chocolate bars. They’re easy to eat on the go. The one in the passenger seat likes pretzels. At least when it comes to actual meals, we can both deal with salami sandwiches. I find that these are the best to consume, because if you’ve got fresh bread and very thinly-sliced salami, then you don’t need messy sauces or toppings. And the meat won’t slide out when I try to cram it into my mouth with one hand.
After lunch or, if we’ve left in the afternoon, dinner, we’re usually at the point of the drive where it’s time to settle down and just get to the end. I’m not sure if it’s only this route, or if it’s a universal fact, but the last stretch is always just one mind-numbingly boring slog to the finish. The road is flat and straight, and there’s nothing interesting outside to see. Stiffness has begun to set in, you feel the crick in your neck start to work its way down your back, and your bum knee starts to throb every time you adjust your leg.
That is obviously the least fun part. The negativity is tempered by the fact that we’ll soon arrive at our destination, and there’s usually friends and family waiting. Most of the time they have cold beers ready. This is obviously the best part.
Our trips thus far have all been relatively pain-free. We’ve been lucky this year to have had uniformly decent weather, no serious delays to deal with, and most of all, to have had safe travels.
Every time we get underway, we learn something new that makes the drive a little bit more efficient or a little bit more enjoyable. And, while in the coming year our goal is to make fewer runs down the highway, we hope that the ones we do will continue to be smooth sailing.